The controversial Chinese company China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC), which was sanctioned by the World Bank in 2019 for fraud and corruption, will build the new bridge over the Demerara River in Guyana, Guyanese newspaper Stabroek News reported.
The Guyanese government and the Chinese company signed the $260 million contract in late May. Although the design of the bridge has yet to be finalized, preparatory work will begin immediately, Stabroek News reported.
“China is a country that does not have much of a tendency to respect climate and environmental impact issues,” Daniel Pou, a security expert and director of the Citizen Security Data Analysis Center of the Dominican Republic, told Diálogo on July25. “Its tradition is always like that in all the places where it invested.”
Construction is estimated to take two years. The four-lane floating structure with cyclelane will be more than 2.65 kilometers long, 24 meters wide, and have a useful life of 100 years. The new structure will replace the existing 44-year-old bridge, according to Guyana’s Department of Public Information.
However, work on the new bridge will begin without an environmental and social impact assessment (EIA). Guyanese environmentalist Simone Mangal-Joly warned that “the absence of basic information on the bridge design makes it impossible to draw conclusions about the impacts associated with the bridge,”Guyanese newspaper Kaieteur Newsreported.
EIAs are a requirement for any activity that requires alterations to the physical and human environment. The construction of a bridge modifies the environment where it is implemented, there may be damage to species of flora and fauna in the area, as well as water, soil, and air pollution, a graduation paper for the Civil Engineering degree with the Catholic University of Santiago Guayaquil in Ecuador says.
“Chinese investments in the region deepen the asymmetries of costs […] and ecological-distributive injustices, […] and in Latin America we are left with environmental liabilities,” Ariel Slipak, coordinator of the Argentine Environment and Natural Resources Foundation(Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), told Diálogo. “We are the ones paying for the environmental costs, such as the depletion of water resources.”
Mangal-Joly said that the Demerara River experiences high sedimentation, so when the pillars are placed in the river for the construction of the bridge they will profoundly affect the flow of water, which she described as “the most critical area,”Stabroek News reported.
In 2019, the World Bank debarred CRCC, the Chinese state-owned infrastructure development company, its subsidiaries, and its 730 controlled affiliates, for malpractices in the procurement process for the East-West Highway Corridor Improvement Project contract in Georgia, by submitting manipulated information.
Poor practices or not, China is seeking to develop a road to connect the coast of Guyana at Georgetown and Berbice to thenorth of Brazil, and a large port to take its vessels to the Pacific Ocean, Pou said. “Unquestionably the move is a domineeringone,” he added.
Projects from Chinese–owned and operated companies have been expanding in Guyana. One of these includes China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s participation in the consortium that controls the Stabroek oil fields. The acquisition by the Chinese firm Bosai Minerals of the Omai bauxite mine near Linden, and improvements by China Harbour and Engineering Corporation to the already delayed Cheddi Jagan International Airport are other examples.
Talks on another project, the Amaila Falls hydropower station, resumed in mid-July after negotiations with China Railway First Group Limited, the preferred bidder that was also sanctioned by the World Bank in 2019 in connection with fraudulent practices at a hydropower project in Pakistan, ended in a deadlock in May.
China’s presence in the Americas has been stronger since 2010, involving itself in primary resource extraction, critical minerals, and energy resources, as well asthe construction of mega-infrastructure, Slipak said.
Rethinking the relationship
Diana Castro, professor at the Simón Bolívar Andean University in Ecuador, suggests that Latin American countries should rethink their financial relationship with China. “Latin American countries are faced with two paths with respect to their relationship with China: follow the extractivism path or reevaluate the major economic and financial models to reduce the ecological footprint and contribute to climate change,” environmental journalism platform Mongabay reported in March.
“Countries must strengthen civil society organizations to challenge those who finance [projects] and ensure and demand that they comply with the standards of the Escazú Agreement on access to information, public participation, and justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Slipak concluded. The Escazú Agreement, signed by 25 Latin American and Caribbean nations, whichoriginated in 2012, is the first international treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean on environmental matters, and the first in the world to include provisions on the rights of environmental defenders.